created at: 2011-05-11The 21st century and Israel Education are having a tough time together.

The awe-struck, Kibbutz-blue, sabra-promoting ideals of Israel education are long gone.  Instead of loving Israel first, and questioning Israel second, our students are questioning first, and sometimes not loving at all.  In an age when students expect to be empowered and have access to the world and its information, our students are demanding accountability and morality from an Israel that they do not understand.  They are challenging Israel’s actions without any grasp of the complexities of Israel’s reality.  Axiomatic love of Israel has become passé, replaced with ambivalence about, and even hostility towards Israel that is impossible to ignore or deny.

For many of our students today, and in fact many of our young leaders, there is a profound alienation between their perceptions of Jewish morality and the actions of the Jewish state.  While my parents grew up with Israel-as-David, miraculously winning the Six Day War, my children are growing up with Israel-as-Goliath, the perpetual aggressors.  Bombarded by images and blitzed by a world media whose agenda is a de facto de-legitimization of Israel, unless we change course, that alienation will grow more pronounced as we head towards 2020.

I’ve been teaching classes on Israel, Zionist history, and Israel advocacy for years.  Do I question Israel?  Yes.  Do I condemn Israel for its decisions that I disagree with?  Of course.  Do I blindly parrot Israeli policymakers and Likudnikim?  Never.  But I do begin my criticism of Israel from a place of love and support for the Jewish homeland, and that is an attitude that is less pervasive in our communities and schools than it was even fifteen years ago.

This is an alarming trend, and one that must be reversed.  But it’s a dual challenge. We need to both reinvigorate our communities and institutions with a palpable and relevant Zionism that speaks to our contemporaries in new and meaningful ways, and at the same time teach our students about how use technology and the global network in positive ways to effect change.

As an educator, it’s naïve not to admit that the traditional gatekeepers of knowledge and information (teachers, librarians, and parents, for example) have been brushed aside in favor of the iPhone, Google Chrome, and Wikipedia.  With all information seemingly a smart-phone touch-screen away, students feel less and less need to consult with us first before leaping to their own conclusions.

Luckily, the job descriptions of “parent”, “teacher”, and “librarian” have been evolving as well.  While we aren’t the only sources of knowledge anymore, we certainly have to be more than observers as this generation researches and learns online.  We need to, in the context of our teaching, embrace our students’ connectivity but make sure we are doing our best to ensure that they are connecting to the people, places, and networks that will foster the kinds of attitudes that we seek to fill them with.  We need to find the leaders in our classes who will be profoundly impacted by attending the AIPAC policy conference, or who design websites like this one (and yes, the founder of that website is my current student), or who will write articles in their student newspapers about Israel. 

We are as much teachers now as headhunters, plugging in our most talented voices and motivated students into a network that will push them to become leaders in ways so different than we experienced when we were their age.

The scary thing is that despite all of this, my children, your children, and our grandchildren aren’t going to love and support Israel, and question and demand more of Israel in a way which is affirming of Zionism and Israel’s existence, unless we model that passion and commitment as well.  So it’s about way more than protecting them from hateful anti-Israel and anti-Zionist material online, or teaching children that oftentimes videos and photos can be doctored to make Israel look bad on purpose, or giving our students the social media tools to go out and be activists in the global network.  It’s about starting at the beginning, teaching a love for Israel and a care for Israel that this new generation will use as the foundation of a lifetime spent searching for meaning and connection to the Jewish homeland.  And unfortunately, if we don’t begin now, the alienation may in fact be irreversible. 


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